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Epicurience Virginia Gears Up For Third Year

© Leesburg Today - 08/30/2015

The sweeping lawn of the Morven Park mansion will again be the venue for the Labor Day weekend showcase of the finest Virginia food, wine and beer, as well as the skills of top area chefs and area wine and beer makers.

Food, wine, beer and music-what could be a better end-of-summer combination?

That's what is in store for participants at the third rendition of Epicurience Virginia. The festival, expected to draw more than last year's 2,100 visitors, blends culinary and wine tasting with education about Virginia-produced foods and beverages.

The activities begin with the Loudoun Wine Association gala dinner Thursday, Sept. 3 at The National Conference Center in Lansdowne, where the winners of the inaugural Wine Awards Competition will be announced. The new program is designed to highlight, and improve, the quality of Loudoun wines by having them compete against each other for top bragging rights.

Epicurience formally kicks off the next night with dinner at The Restaurant at Patowmack Farm and closes Sunday with brunch at Salamander Resort and Spa in Middleburg. In between, Visit Loudoun has assembled a packed schedule of activities at Morven Park.

Visit Loudoun President and CEO Beth Erickson is particularly pleased by the expansion of last year's ""speed blending"" contest. The popular feature allows festivalgoers selected in a drawing to try their skill with a local winemaker to use a variety of Loudoun wines to come up with their own blend.

""It's a good way for a consumer to make a great glass of wine,"" Erickson said, recalling last year's event teamed a Purcellville resident with Bluemont Vineyards winemaker Bob Rupy to create the winning blend as decided by a panel of judges. Building on last year's debut, the contest will feature more participation by the public and two rounds of speed blending, after which the judges will make their pick.

The contest is only one element of the educational hands-on tasting the festival offers. It's not only fun for the amateur winemaker, but also promotes the winning wine and what went into it, Erickson said. The wines that Rupy blended last year came from Tarara Winery, Sunset Hills Vineyards and Breaux Vineyards. Bluemont Vineyards offers bottles of the winning red wine blend, produced from the 2013 vintage, for $40.

Under the leadership of American Wine School founder Marianne Frantz, each of the speed blending sessions will take about an hour. Those who wish to participate should go to EpicVirginia.com for registration details. Only those who have bought a ticket ($95 at the gate or $85 in advance for general admission) are eligible to enter the speed blending drawing.

The kickoff dinner will be held at 6 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 4 at The Restaurant at Patowmack Farm near the Point of Rocks bridge. Chef Tarver King has assembled a group of talented chefs, including Bryan Voltaggio, of Volt and Family Meals; Justin Severino, of Cure; Tim Ma, of Water & Wall; and Jason Lage, of Market Table Bistro and Market Burger. Scott Harris, co-owner of Catoctin Creek Distillery, will be on hand to serve cocktails as will be the Loudoun Wine Awards winners.

Many of the chefs will demonstrate their skills later during Epicurience. Chefs, musicians and beverage makers, along with educators, will revolve around different venues at Morven Park over the weekend. The Grand Tasting Tent features more than 40 food and beverages exhibitors. There also will be a Chefs' Demonstration Tent and the Wine Education Tent.

The VIP Tent ($140 entrance fee) will feature four breweries- Lost Rhino, Adroit Theory, Belly Love and Mad Horse Brewpub-as well as special tastings. Admission to the VIP Tent will give ticket holders exposure to winemakers and food specialists, including FOODE founder, Bravo top chef contestant and exponent of southern cuisine Joy Crump. Stone Tower Winery will sponsor specialized wine tastings.

On the demonstration stage, a bevy of local chefs will dazzle with their skills, including headline chef Bryan Voltaggio, Chris Edwards, Jason Lage and Connie Moore. The roster demonstrates the strength of the culinary industry in Loudoun, Erickson said.

The Wine Tent, sponsored by Virginia Wine, will feature a number of educational happenings, including an appearance by renowned wine writer Anthony Giglio. One of the most exciting partnerships this year, Erickson said, is with Food And Wine magazine, that approached Visit Loudoun to be a main sponsor.

Returning this year is a demonstration by French trained butcher Marc Pauvert, who will show visitors the art of traditional butchering, including explaining where the best cuts of meat are to be found.

""Last year, it was very well attended,"" Erickson said, recalling the crowd was ""seven to 10 people deep watching him."" Pauvert's demonstration is sponsored by Virginia Grown, a program of the Virginia Department of Agriculture.

Also new this year, will be ""wine valets""-golf carts that will transport a minimum of six bottles of wine to the purchaser's car for free. The Town of Leesburg signed on as a sponsor this year to help provide live music performances by area singer-songwriters, all who represent Cancer Can Rock, a nonprofit that records artists who have been affected by cancer. The six performers are Andrew Tufano, Dusty Rose, Bruce Parker, Tommy Gann, Justin Trawick and Todd Wright.

The first year's attendance, on one of the hottest Labor Day weekends on record, drew about 1,200 visitors. Attendance grew by 75 percent last year to just over 2,100, Erickson said.

Entrance to the festival is restricted to those 21 and older. Both Erickson and Visit Loudoun's Communications Manager Jennifer Sigal noted comments and surveys alike have shown visitors appreciate the adult-only experience.

""We want to build on the success of each year, to fine tune it and bring new opportunities; make it exciting and fresh,"" Erickson said.

""It's about expanding on what we know works well and grow it,"" Sigal said.

That's important, as this is the third and final year of the annual $200,000 contribution approved by the Loudoun Board of Supervisors to build the event.

The $85 advance ticket will be available online through the day before the festival. For a full schedule of events, times and locations, plus online ticketing, go to EpicVirginia.com.

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